Shooting in the Rain

Author: Vicki Uthe

I recently arrived back from an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop in Oregon. We traveled from Portland to Hood River, Bend, Newport, Cannon Beach, Astoria and back to Portland. In packing for this trip my biggest concern became: how to keep my me and my gear dry.

Oregon is known for its spectacular vistas that generally include a lot of green. Well, that green comes from somewhere; RAIN! So, what to bring…

I began with myself. I packed a rain jacket and rain pants that were big enough slip over my regular pants so I could take them on and off as needed. I also brought a couple of small camp towels to dry my hands before touching the camera. A shammy or washcloth would also do the trick, it just has to be small enough to fit into a pocket because if it’s not handy you won’t use it. Lastly, I brought a small umbrella that could fit into my camera pack or at least strap onto the bottom of it for quick retrieval.

Now for the gear: My camera bag has it’s own rain cover, which is in an easy to get to outside zippered pocket, and stretches over the pack in seconds. I was shooting mostly on a tripod and in my pocket was a shower cap. When it began to rain I simply pulled the shower cap out and stretched it from my lens hood back over the body of the camera. In a pinch this works well. It’s quick and easy to get to. The other item I purchased and have only used in a downpour in Arizona, where I’m from, is a raincoat for my camera and lens. There are several on the market. The one I purchased has three openings, one for the lens to poke through with a lens hood and two on either side of the body to allow your hands to manipulate the controls. There is a clear plastic back so you can view your image on the LCD screen. This takes a little longer to put on than a shower cap but if you know you are going to be shooting in rain I would put this on in the car or house and step into the rain with it already attached.

Here’s the list:

1 rain jacket and pants
1 camp towel
1 small umbrella
1 camera bag rain cover (a trash bag will do)
1 shower cap (grab one next time you stay at a hotel)
1 camera rain cover (check with your favorite camera store)

I hope this is helpful. Monsoons in Arizona are just around the corner so get your gear protected and get out there and SHOOT!

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Frog Photography

Author: Bruce Taubert
All images copyrighted Bruce Taubert

Glass Frog Blog jpeg 2After over 20 years of photographing frogs both in the United States and the Tropics I have developed a few techniques and put together some equipment that give me the results I need.  Above and beyond having a basic understanding of frog biology these small denizens of the night offer several obstacles to the macro photographer.

To some extent or another all frogs “breath” through their skin.  To make this possible the frog’s skin is moist and as a result highly reflective.  Any attempt at using strobes without diffusion normally results in an image where the frog’s skin is dotted with unattractive, colorless white blotches.

red-eyed treefrog blog

Most frog photography is accomplished in the dark of the night so the photographer, unless they have a friendly assistant, needs to hold their camera and at the same time illuminate the subject in order to focus on it.  Headlamps are of little use since as soon as the camera is brought into shooting position your forehead and the headlamp are covered by the camera body and attached flash.

Finally, straight on light or using a flash on the hotshoe is very unattractive so the photographer needs some mechanism to place the flash/s off of the lens axis.  Otherwise red-eye, harsh shadows, flat colors, and other bad things result.

Hyla cinerascens jpeg for blog

Several years ago I purchased the Canon macro twin flash.  Even though they are overly expensive they are my go to method of lighting small subjects.  Off camera flash brackets can be purchased or homemade for considerably less expense and I recommend going that route if money is a concern or if you are unsure macro photography is for you.  Nikon also makes some very nice, and in some cases better than the Canon twin flash, macro flashes.  The main problem I have with any form of macro flash is the quality of the light.  If you go to You Tube there are several very informative videos that describe making inexpensive diffusers.  Not being terribly handy I purchased two (one for each of the twin flashes) “sock-like” flash diffusers off of Amazon.com.  The set costs about $8.  Because they are made for strobes I had to use a little Velcro to ensure they stayed on the flash heads while I walked around thick jungle vegetation or desert.  These small diffusers do an amazing job of reducing the specular highlights common to most flashed subjects.  Frog skin shine problem solved!

frog blog 2

Both the Canon twin flash and the Nikon macro flashes place the strobes very close to the cameras lens.  Although the strobes are far enough away from the lens axis to eliminate red-eye they are so close many images can be flat looking.  Some modeling light can be obtained by varying the light output from each strobe but normally the effect is not as dramatic as I want. After a brief search on Amazon.com I found a short (in the range or 3 inch long) shoe mounted swivel head.  I place the swivel head where the Canon strobe goes and then place the strobe on the end of it.  Now my flashes are around 5 inches instead of one inch from the lens.  Modeling flash is much more effective, the amount of skin reflection is even further reduced, and I have an easier time photographing larger specimens!

A long time ago my wife refused to go out with me late at night to hold a flash light on my nocturnal subjects so I could focus.  I can’t imagine why!  There are occasions when I can con a friend to wander around in the dark to assist me or another frog photographer to join me in my wanderings but, for the most part, I am alone with too few hands to get the job done.  While watching a video on frog photography I noted another photographer had developed a unique way of lighting their subject.    The photographer used the Canon twin macro flashes and had placed a small LED video light

frog  blog 1

between the lens and the strobe.  Two problems were solved at once. The strobes were placed further from the lens than normal and the video lights made it possible to illuminate the subject while focusing.  Since I had solved the flash extension problem I only needed to use one video light for focusing and one flash extender on the opposite side of the flash unit. Now I can accomplish most of my nighttime macro photography with the two hands I was born with.

Using this combination of equipment modifications my frog photography efforts have become much easier and more rewarding.  With the exception of the twin flashes I spent less than $60.  The set-up is light weight, easy to pack on long trips, and fast to assemble.  Getting the flash off camera and diffusing the light and having hands free focusing capabilities all at the same time makes life much easier and allows me to take more and, hopefully, better images.

red-eyed treefrog blog

Bruce Taubert is a biologist and Wildlife Photographer and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

 

 

Photography: The Individual Sport

Author: Lynn Sankey

Whether you are shooting with a group or alone, photography is an individual sport.  It is also competitive! The challenges of seeing the big picture, where to execute, and where to retreat, require calculation.  It’s a sport that doesn’t keep score, but will hold your passion.  How do you attract the viewer to capture their attention? You must look at each setting much like an inquisitive child asking who, what, when, where and why. Attack these questions and explore!

Lynn Sankey is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Focus and Depth Of Field

Author Vern West
All images are copyright by Vern West

One of the questions that I get on various workshops is how to control Depth of Field (DOF) or sometimes understanding DOF. The explanation requires setting your camera to focus on a single point.

So let’s go over critical focus first. Most cameras have several ways of automatically focusing the lens, this is usually called autofocus or AF for short. I shoot the Canon System so my terminology tends to use their terms but the concept applies to all camera systems.

The first AF concept is what Canon calls One Shot and AI Servo. One shot means when you press the shutter button down half way the lens is focused on the subject. If the subject is moving the lens focus does not follow the subject while you have the shutter depressed half way. AI Servo is a continuous focus so that as long as you have the shutter depressed half way the lens will try and follow and maintain focus on the subject. Of course this means that you must keep the focus point on the subject as well as the shutter depressed half way.

This leads to the next AF concept. All camera systems have the ability to set a single focus point or multiple points these points are typically arranged in a diamond pattern or rectangular pattern. In the case of the single point the lens will AF on that point precisely. In the case of the multiple points the camera actually picks one or more of the multiple focus points to focus the lens.Focus-Image-03

This works well in some instances but not for our purposes of controlling DOF. Every camera has a different way of selecting the focus points so you will have to refer to you camera manual to find out how to set a single point. It seems like every Canon model in the last few years does it a little differently so I cannot even explain how to do it even on the different Canon cameras. Now, the first thing to do to control the DOF is to set your camera so that only one AF point is on and have it set to One Shot.

There is another focus mode on some Canon cameras called AI-Focus. It is explained as a combination of both One Shot and AI Servo in that it maintains focus on a stationary subject and tracks a moving subject. After some personal testing I don’t think that it works as well as either One Shot or AI Servo so I use those modes instead,

DOF is defined as the area in an image that is acceptably sharp. A lens can only be in focus at a specific distance but an area in front of and behind the focal point can be sharp enough to be acceptable to the eye. This acceptably sharp area or DOF is approximately 1/3 of the distance in front of the focus point and 2/3 of the distance behind it. If this seems too technical just bear with me and I will simplify it in a minute. I want to explain some of the concepts before going on. I use a free Smart phone APP to quickly determine my DOF in the field without having to calculate anything. The one I use is DOF Calculator but there are many and you need to pick one that you like and is easy to use.  Just search for DOF Calculator in your phone’s APP Store, there are lots of them.

There are three things that affect DOF. The first is sensor size but since we cannot change the size of our sensor we can ignore this factor.  Basically the smaller the sensor the greater the DOF which means that a point and shoot camera or camera phone will have a large DOF and there is very little that you can do control it. However, the other two things that we can control are focal length of the lens and F/stop.

The longer the focal length the shallower the depth of field. A 50mm lens will have a greater DOF than a 200mm lens at the same F/stop. You have probably seen images of a bird on a perch or animal where the background is just a blur of color such as image 01 . This is an example of longer focal length lens and a shallow DOF. The reverse would be a scene with everything in focus from the Ocotillo in the foreground all the way to the mountain in the distance such as image 02. This is an example of a shorter focal length lens and a greater DOF.

The next factor that we can control is F/stop or the opening that lets the light through the lens to the sensor. The smaller the lens opening, larger F/stop numbers, the more the DOF. I like to think of it as a bigger F/stop number gives me more DOF. These two examples show you the DOF of a 70mm lens at F/4 and F/16.


I said that I would simplify this so here goes! Looking at your Smartphone App. The DOF at F/4 in the example above is less than 1 foot but at F/16 it is nearly 4 feet when both are focused at a subject that is 8 feet away. So all you really have to do is let your App do the calculation for you. Adjust your lens F/stop to get the DOF that you want. If you don’t use a smartphone then you can print out DOF charts for the lenses that you use and refer to the chart.

Let’s look at a more real world example. Looking at image 05. Both the Cholla and the mountain are in focus. This was taken at F/16 and 24mm. Using the DOF Calculator App we see that at a subject distance of 8 feet everything would be acceptably sharp from around 3 feet all the way to infinity, the mountain in this case. Since the Cholla was about 8 feet I focused on it and knew that mountain and moon would be in focus. For a wide angle lens, stopping down to F16 will insure a large enough DOF most images.

DOFImage-05

Longer focal length lens require paying more attention to the DOF App and subject distance. The Saguaro flower was taken with 400mm lens at F/6.3 from an about 20 feet away.   The DOF in this case is only around a quarter of a foot.

DOFImage-06

Notice the bud behind the flower is out of focus and the more distant background is a very soft blur.

In the field armed with the DOF App or a DOF chart found on the internet you can improve your images by controlling the depth of field. I’ll save a discussion of Hyper Focal distance for another time.

Vern West is a nature photographer and trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

To use or not to use: Long Exposure Noise Reduction

Author Beth Ruggiero-York

Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) is an important function available on most DSLRs and mirrorless camera bodies, which can be turned on or off as desired. During a long exposure, unacceptable noise may result because the sensor gets warm after several seconds. This warming effect produces what is called ‘amp noise’, which results in fog-like brightening around the edges of the frame as well as bright spots with various colors in the image (chroma, or color, noise). Amp noise occurs more on hotter sections of the sensor than on cooler sections.

After taking an image with LENR turned on, the camera will then take a duplicate image, called a ‘dark frame’. The dark frame is an image with the same settings as the original image, but it is taken as though the lens cap is on. When the dark frame is complete, the camera then compares it with the original frame and then subtracts the noise found in the dark frame from the original frame, thereby reducing the long exposure noise. This is a very effective way of reducing one major type of noise and making your images more usable.

There is a catch, though. For most cameras, LENR doubles the time required to create the image because your camera is unusable because it is ‘shooting’ the dark frame. It should be noted that there are some camera models that can still be used to take images while the dark frame is being taken, such as some Canon models. However, all Nikon models require doubling of the time needed for each exposure.

So when do you use LENR? Only when you can afford to double your exposure time. For example, if you are shooting on a moonless night when conditions are not changing, you can afford to double your exposure time. But if you are shooting star trails as multiple images for stacking in post-processing, you definitely cannot afford to double your exposure time because large gaps will result. If you are photographing a scene that involves a rapidly changing sky or rapidly changing lighting conditions, such as aurora borealis or a full moon rising, you generally cannot afford to double your exposure time.

It’s just a question of common sense. Ask yourself if you are willing to forfeit the seconds or minutes needed for the dark frame.

Beth Ruggiero-York is an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops and cultural host and tour guide in China for Smithsonian, National Geographic and others.

 

Polarizing – After the Fact

Author:  Alan Feldman

Enhanced Image
Most seasoned photographers are familiar with Polarizers; filters added to the front of a lens that when adjusted properly can minimize the effects of glare and reflections, and enhance the colors of a sky by increasing contrast.

Often, for one or more reasons, a polarizing filter was not used when taking a photograph.  Don’t despair.  The polarizing effect can be achieved during post-processing.  Granted, this effect is not quite as good as the real thing, but in many cases it works quite well.

In Photoshop, or an equivalent program, perform the following steps.

1.  Open the image to be enhanced.
2.  Duplicate the layer.
3.  De-saturate the layer.
4.  Apply a Gaussian Blur; 40 – 70 pixels (experiment a little).
5.  Invert the colors (make a negative).
6.  Change Blending Mode of layer to Overlay.
7.  Use Levels to adjust luminosity as desired.
8.  Merge layers.

In Adobe products, this series of steps can be saved as an Action.  In other programs it can be saved as a Script.  In the “old days,” this type of process was called a Batch File.  Some programs come with this or a similar technique.

At any rate, give it a shot.  You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. Below is a shot of the Jefferson Memorial I took years ago on a relatively sunny day.  In all honesty, I simply forgot to use my polarizer.  The enhanced image follows.  In the interest of “full disclosure,”  this image also had a slight exposure correction, an increase in saturation, and a small amount of sharpening.

Alan Feldman is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.